Advertising Fits Best in Natural Pauses -- on TV and Online

It's Best to Catch the Viewer When He's Ready for a Break in the Action

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In a 2007 study, professors from the University of California, Berkeley, and NYU found that commercial breaks actually enhanced viewers' enjoyment of television programming. Although most people say that they do not like advertising, participants in the study marked programs that had breaks as "more enjoyable."

TV writers use the breaks as opportunities to build suspense, or to let a particularly deep plot point marinate with the audience. Viewers have come to expect that commercials and storyline will flow harmoniously; in this way, commercials become part of the narrative. What feels like a natural pause allows viewers to be more receptive to the ads that they see on screen.

By comparison, online media is a dialogue between consumers and creators. Users can comment, update, "Like," "pin," and play; content producers, game developers and brands can respond with greater quickness than ever before, continuing to update, make changes and interact. The initial web model of transferring newspaper-style advertising online, with ads peppering web pages in neat little boxes, is evolving toward a conversational model of digital-media consumption focused on dialogue with the user.

But the new media also have natural breaks in the activity-focused online experience, whether on the web, in social media or on mobile devices. Marketers can take advantage of these moments to engage with their audience in a place where it makes sense. As was found in the TV study, this might enhance the audience's enjoyment. Just as in television advertising, natural breaks in the action are where online ads belong.

Where can we find the natural breaks online? Reading your favorite blog or media site is not just about reading and consuming content, it's about engaging through comments or "likes", or sharing content that is interesting and thought-provoking with social networks. Once a user has read an article and commented or chosen to share it, there is a natural break where he has completed the cycle of find, read, engage/share.

Music sites and applications, such as Pandora and Spotify, advertise to listeners after they have heard a song, however I would argue that a more natural break in this experience is after you have finished listening to all of the songs from a particular artist and are searching for a new artist or playlist. As a user, you are now in a more natural break in that listening experience –- one that you have created for yourself and not one that you were forced to take. You're reaching users when they've taken a pause, not forcing that pause on them.

Advertising that uses respectful pauses is even more important in the mobile space, as the relationship between user and screen is even more personal. And the opportunities to take advantage of the pause on mobile are plenty. For example, downloading a book using popular application Audibly. Once users have selected a book and have started the download, the pause in between selection and consumption is a perfect opportunity to show an ad that does not disrupt this user experience, but instead capitalizes on this break while the user is still engaged.

When we try to solve the interactive and engagement problem of today's massive display marketplace, including banner blindness, with invasive push downs and jarring auto-play videos, we drive users away. If we can solve these problems by finding the pauses within user experiences and capitalizing on these moments, we make digital advertising better for everyone.

Lindsay Van Kirk is director of sales operations for appssavvy.
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